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Novak Djokovic is better than the rest, wins big in New York

By Sigurd Neubauer


He came well prepared to the US Open final on Sunday. After yet another grueling match, Novak Djokovic, 36, defeated Daniil Medvedev, 27, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3. At the trophy ceremony, the Serb – along with his team – brought out white Lacoste jackets with the number 24 on them, which, of course, symbolizes how many Grand Slam titles Djokovic has won over his storied career. But before putting on his Lacoste jacket, Djokovic put on a Kobe Bryant shirt – also with the number 24 on it – as his late friend donned No. 24 for 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Djokovic also spoke emotionally about his friend Bryant (1978-2020) who tragically died in a helicopter accident. Just like Djokovic – who is the male player with the most Grand Slam titles of all time – Bryant is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game.

Djokovic’s tribute to Bryant – at the pinnacle of his professional success in New York on Sunday – also shed some light on Djokovic the person, who has not always been a crowd favorite within the ultra-competitive world of men’s tennis. In New York, his love for family and respect for his opponent, Medvedev, was apparent and sincere. Djokovic also reminded the audience of his long journey from a modest childhood in his native Serbia and how his family and team had supported him from the ouset.

Novak Djokovic is better than the rest, and he won big in New York. This was apparent after winning the second set – which lasted one hour and 44 minutes – by tiebreak. It was an extraordinary performance, which illustrated his supreme athleticism.

Commenting on Djokovic’s extraordinary ability to win sets by tiebreak, President Vesa Ponkka of the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) explains that the Serb is first and foremost a better player than his competitors. “Djokovic is able to focus better, which is why he wins the tiebreaker; he trusts his training and experience.”

Djokovic came well prepared to the final with his Lacoste jacket. Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA

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During the final, “Djokovic played his normal game, but it was telling how inflexible Medvedev was with his return positions. The Russian didn’t make any adjustments to his return positions, which enabled the Serb to volley against the deuce side of the court,”  Ponkka – who is also one of America’s preeminent tennis coaches – explains. In practice, Djokovic won 19 out of 20 points, which Ponkka characterizes as “an insane percentage” for any player to win with.

Responding to why Medvedev didn’t adjust his return positions, the JTCC President reveals that this tactic has traditionally served the Russian well as it has become his normal return position. “It obviously didn’t work on Sunday, and other players are taking notice,” he says.

Some analysts have argued that Djokovic is a better player today than before. On whether that’s the case, Ponkka argues that he may be better due to the combination of his experience and skills, but the Serb was faster five years ago. 

“What is happening is that other players are not able to stay at their level for so long. And the younger players are not as good as we think they are,” Ponkka explains, then quips: “Djokovic is playing at a super high-level at the moment and Carlos Alcaraz, 20, is perhaps the only one for the time being who is capable of ‘hanging’ with him.”

Medvedev-Alcaraz match

During the semifinals on Friday, Medvedev defeated Alcaraz 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

“This was the best match of the tournament,” Ponkka says, pointing out that both men played high-quality tennis during the semifinal, which was marked by high intensity. 

“Both were aggressive about going after the big points; everything about the match was first class,” he says. The veteran tennis coach argues that during the final, Medvedev’s energy levels had flattened. 

On what’s next for Medvedev, the JTCC President points out that neither Russia or Belarus are allowed to compete at the unfolding Davis Cup, which runs from September 12-17, because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is clear that Djokovic has no immediate plans of slowing down as he is representing Serbia in it.

Medvedev is expected to play in the Laver Cup in Vancouver, Canada, which runs from September 22-24. The Russian is also expected to participate in the upcoming Rolex Shanghai Masters and the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships.

Djokovic and Medvedev demonstrated mutual respect for each other both on and off court. Photo credit: Darren Carroll/USTA

Vesa Ponkka is one of America’s preeminent tennis coaches. Photo credit: Courtesy 

Djokovic-Shelton match

Djokovic easily defeated Ben Shelton, 20, 3-6, 2-6, 6-7 during the quarterfinal. “Shelton had a fantastic tournament, but the match was never close. The American is a great talent, but he made too many mistakes against Djokovic, which is why he never really had a chance,” Ponkka explains.

On what’s next for Shelton, the JTCC President notes that the American will participate in the Laver Cup. Following his performance at the US Open, Shelton is now ranked as No. 19 in the world. “His high ranking will enable him to compete in all of the big tournaments,” Ponkka explains, adding that he expects the American to be ranked top 15 by the end of the year.

Coco Gauff won her third consecutive tournament in New York, but her first Grand Slam. Photo credit: Neil Schlecht/ USTA


The American wonderkid Coco Gauff, 19, is playing the tennis of her life. On Saturday, she won the US Open, her first Grand Slam title. The teenager arrived in New York armed with two major titles; in August she won the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in July, the Mubadala Citi DC Open in the nation’s capital.

At the US Open final, Gauff easily picked apart Aryna Sabalenka, 25, – 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 – when her game collapsed during the second set. The Belarussian is the No. 1 ranked WTA player in the world whereas Gauff is No. 3.

Gauff and Jessica Pegula, 29, are the No. 1 WTA doubles ranking. 

Gauff has also hired ESPN commentator and best-selling author Brad Gilbert as her coach. 

Gilbert has coached some of the very best players in the world, including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, and Andy Murray, – and now Gauff – who have all won Grand Slams. Gilbert’s contribution to Gauff’s success is apparent.

On what’s next for Gauff, Ponkka argues that it is only a matter of time before she becomes the No. 1 player in the world. “She will be winning a lot,” he adds, but points out that Gauff reminds him of Steffi Graff, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. 

“Gauff, like Graf before her, was the best mover in the game. During the US Open final, Gauff moved extremely well. The American will win more Grand Slams and major titles,” the JTCC President predicts.

Commenting on what set Gauff apart during the final against Sabalenka,  Ponkka notes that the American was able to take the match to its next level. 

On whether there were any surprises at the US Open, the veteran tennis coach argues that he was surprised to see Iga Świątek, 22, loose against Jeļena Ostapenko, 25. Another surprise was Madison Keys’ performance during the semifinal when she almost defeated Sabalenka, he reveals. 

Coco Gauff, like Steffi Graf before her, was the best mover in the game: Ponkka
Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title at the 2023 Australian Open
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